There was a long-time effort on the part of Yolo County elected officials to bring public power to Yolo County through the annexation of the Yolo County power infrastructure to the Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD). The remarkable thing is that elected officials who can hardly agree that the sky is blue all came together to support this proposal–city councilmembers from the three major cities in the county, every member of the Yolo County Board of Supervisors, and even school board members and special district unanimously supported the SMUD annexation.
In many ways, it seemed like a slam-dunk–at least in Yolo County. Unfortunately, this was not a level playing field. It was one heavily tilted toward the electricity giant, PG&E. Yolo County had to pass not one but two measures–H and I– and Sacramento County had to consent to the expansion of SMUD into Yolo County through the passage of Measure L (not to be confused with the Davis Measure L in support of Choice Voting).
The battle lines for this election were drawn early.
- SMUD estimated Yolo County energy customers would save $148 million over 20 years if they switched providers.
- Pacific Gas & Electric Co. estimated the move would cost this area’s customers $835 million.
The dispute had to do with the value of PG&E’s infrastructure and facilities.
- SMUD estimated that value was between $86 million and $133 million.
- PG&E on the other hand, estimated that its facilities were worth more than $500 million.
Those cost differences accounted for roughly half of the difference in the projected cost to Yolo County energy consumers. The rest of the difference was derived from predictions about the future cost of natural gas, a key component for generating electricity.
PG&E aside from the structural advantage of only having to prevail on one of three measures, had one other key advantage–virtually unlimited resources. They spent $11 million on their campaign to convince Yolo County voters that this was too risky. SMUD, on the other hand, could spend no campaign money as they are a public agency and prevented from doing so. So grass roots citizen driven campaign organizations ran the Yes on H & I (Yes on SMUD) campaign in Yolo County raising from local businesses and the general public just over $100,000 to fight PG&E’s propaganda machine.
PG&E’s strategy was first, to cast doubt on the fact that Yolo County consumers would save money by switching to SMUD.
Second, PG&E presented themselves as environmental friendly and SMUD as enemies of the environment.
The People’s Vanguard of Davis devoted numerous articles to discussing this topic.
One of the more duplicitous tactics by PG&E and their campaign consultants was the mailer sent to Davis households that suggested that a vote for PG&E was equivalent to a vote against Covell Village.
In the end, the deck was stacked against a victory by SMUD. Measure H narrowly prevailed in Yolo County. Measure I narrowly was defeated in Yolo County. But Yolo County was irrelevant as Measure L was overwhelmingly defeated by a huge margin in Sacramento County.
As I wrote in the post mortem:
“Even granting the large defeat in Sacramento County, I’m a bit disappointed with the Yolo County results. Had Yolo solidly voted to support SMUD, it would have been a loud and clear signal. First, that PG&E could not buy our votes with their ten million dollar plus campaign, fraught with deception. Second, that we were not happy with our service from PG&E.”
In the end, the process concerned me much more than the outcome. In politics you win or lose. But there is a bitter pill to be swallowed when you face a corporation with unlimited resources who unleashes their money and propaganda in ways designed to confuse the voters.
—Doug Paul Davis reporting